WinterWonderGrass CO 2016
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
The Travelin’ McCoury’s - Larry Keel’s WWG All-Stars - Leftover Salmon
Friday was nigh and so was WinterWonderGrass proper!! Two o’clock saw the opening of the gates and free commemorative pins handed out to the first 50 folks in line. Proud to say I got one of those pins! The weather was practically balmy that afternoon as we walked through the archway gate for the first time. As we entered the grounds, a lovely feeling of familiarity settled in as I looked around. The Jamboree Tent and Pickin’ Perch were right where they were supposed to be with the main stage’s commanding presence overlooking all. The Soap Box Stage at the back was warm and welcoming with aromas of thai soup filling the air. The food vendors were gathered all around the Soap Box enhancing the nasal palate with essences of BBQ, grilled cheese, tacos, and more. All delicious and filling and warming in every sense. Despite being a bit muddy, it was nice to have a clear festival space given the amount of snow last year. Different to be sure. A little hard to prepare for entire day at the fest, but we all persevered. With great music and great community to keep us warm, how could we lose? And there was just so much amazing music in store, too. Easy to keep one’s eyes on the prize. Even when the sun began to set and things got a wee chillier than before. There was no doubt looking around from face to face, grin to grin, twinkling eye to twinkling eye that the fun had already begun and that the music was only going to enhance it to the point of boiling over. Just what we’d all come for, right? And, speaking of music…
The Travelin’ McCourys took the stage mid-afternoon on Friday with their gentlemanly presences ready to give one solid, solid show. The consummate professionals, these men truly help to define the genre as well as the kind of folk who play this music. It is always a pleasure to watch them perform, combining talent, skill, and mountains of hard effort into the perfect union of musical excellence. And their WWG set was no exception to this whatsoever. They opened up their set with a sizzling hot instrumental filled to the brim with lightning quick mandolin riffs care of Ronnie McCoury and riveting banjo work from his brother, Rob. Jason Carter, of course, added his own spice to the mix with his iconic fiddle styles. A foot-stomping good way to get the blood moving and crowd dancing and a great indication of where this set was headed: all good places. Ronnie stepped up to the mic for “Deeper Shade of Blue” which came next in line. How can’t you love, Ronnie’s voice? It is just so classically bluegrass and perfect for the genre. And it makes perfect sense given his heritage. Interesting stuff to be sure and fantastic in concert. It was Mr. Carter’s turn at lead vocals next with “When It Comes to You”. Always love hearing Jason sing as well. And you should, too, since we scored a nice video of this one for you. Please enjoy:
If you don’t know, now you know? Right? Pretty hot stuff, eh? Exactly. “Old Train” followed sung by bass player Alan Bartram, whose voice I also love. Sensing a trend yet? And when it comes to the harmonies this band can pump out like in this song? Wowsers. Like no other out there today. Truly. These gentlemen clearly have two things going for them: a) great voices and b) the ability to hone and use them in tight harmony. And I so appreciate both very, very much. As much as I appreciated Jason’s long and lovely central fiddle solo. Delightful. Knocking it out of the park, good sirs, and please continue to do so! (Spoiler Alert - They did just that.) And, while we’re speaking of amazing harmonies… “Midnight Flyer” came steaming at us all in the crowd teeming with harmonic genius. Rob and Ronnie shared some nice interplay between their instrumental lines provided the perfect counterpoint to Jason’s rich baritone. Some really phenomenal movement to this song, too, mimicking the motion of the namesake. Excellent stuff. A personal favorite was next up: “I Live on a Battlefield”. A sad song of tragedy and lost love, the lyrics artfully describe all these feelings in the guise of a war-torn landscape. The song is as clever as it is sorrowful and filled with incredible musicianship helping to evoke the feelings of despair and regret. All wrapped up in Ronnie’s beautiful, clear vocals. It all certainly makes for a powerful experience and did that afternoon to be sure. The spry and lively tune “Lime House Blues” followed “Battlefield” and brought the mood back up to dancing level. We all kicked our heels up as the tune flowed forth from the stage and gents like Rob and Ronnie took up the challenge, delivering some banjo and mando goodness up for us all as if on a silver platter. And then add Cody Kilby to the mix on guitar (that man is a complete monster when it comes to pickin’) and you’ve got quite a musical spectacle on stage. Fast pickin’ through and through! “Cumberland Blues” was next in line that evening, taking us all for a little walk with the Grateful Dead, among others. Jason’s fiddle sliced through cool air like a knife as he nailed his solo down. “I gotta get down, I gotta get down…” You want to talk about getting down?? Done and done!! We had it covered there at WWG — hell, we had it smothered and covered. They took this directly into the instrumental “Cumberland Gap” led by Rob and Jason. Hard drivin’ string music you bet your boots — so fast, so technical, so good!! And just sizzling hot right until the last banjo note. The next song they played I heard for the first time at Big Sky Big Grass up in Montana. Really liked it then and really liked it this time, too. “Back from the Borderline” has a slow, mysterious, droning, building beginning up until Ronnie sings the first verse. That haunting feeling permeates the song as it continues, adding harmonies and a bit more instrumental texture. So glad they’ve added this one to their roster…a very excellent addition. They went directly from “Borderline” into a Kilby-led instrumental once again elevating the mood to a livelier place. This one served as a complete round robin for each member of the band to showcase their unparalleled skills on their chosen instruments. Cody threw down some simply stunning guitar work as Rob and Ronnie picked away with great acumen on banjo and mandolin all the while with Alan Bartram keeping things tied to the foundation on his bass. The fast-paced “Southbound” followed with some more Grateful Dead close behind with “Loser”. Loved this one by the McCourys ever since DelFest last year. Jason Carter’s fiddle lead in melody is just perfect for this song, as is Ronnie’s voice. A really, really great selection for this band, I am so glad they ever decided to do it. So much heart, so much conviction from every member. Makes for quite the performance, let me tell you. This one most certainly pleased the crowd to no end who sang along with every word. Wonderfully executed this time around, too. “Why Did You Wander?” was the final selection of the set, filled with tons of white hot fast pickin’. And I mean fast pickin’!! They were all on fire, my friends, it’s the truth! A flying fun whiz bang ending to a strong, strong set from the McCourys. I always have a superb time seeing this band and so was the case on Friday of WWG. There is just so much to love about them and their playing and their music and their ethos and their everything else. So grateful to have had them at WinterWonderGrass this year!! Thanks for making the trip to Colorado, fellas!!
Larry Keel’s WinterWonderGrass All-Stars were next up on the main stage Friday afternoon. The All-Stars lineup included Larry, Jenny Keel, Andy Thorn, Drew Emmitt, and Jay Starling. Talk about your powerful posse of skilled stringslingers, right? And they brought all that power to bear and then some that day for us in Avon, CO. They started the whole shebang off with a rousing “Star of Munster” led by Andy Thorn on banjo. Nice and familiar way to get this set really going from the very beginning. Some expectedly nasty guitar work from Larry on this one, too. Not to mention some of that sweet, sweet dobro from Jay and some truly mad mandolin work from Drew. And excellent showcase of the talent and skill present on stage. And no problems gelling together as an ensemble either — their sound was tight and practiced. So far, so great. And then onto a Drew lead with “Whispering Waters”, a Leftover Salmon number. We were right up front to capture you some great video of this one which we bring to you now:
Go on, Drew!! No doubt! Just excellent in so many ways. Jason Carter (The Travelin’ McCourys) came out to join them for the next song, “Pioneers”. It was a spritely selection that tells the story of the exploration and hardship found along the wild ranges of the pre-colonized American frontier. This is one that Larry played with Natural Bridge. Some great guitar parts in here care of Mr. Keel. Not to mention some tasty banjo bits thanks to Andy. And all the while, Jason’s fiddle floating over it all like a beautiful bird of music. The next surprise was Peter Rowan coming out to join in the shenanigans with these fine folks on stage. A lengthy and driving and building intro whipped us all into a frenzy and eventually turned into “Sally Goodin” blowing our minds completely. Jason and Andy really dominated that frenetic intro section with Jay and Larry holding their own alongside. By the time Peter began to sing we were all going nuts in the crowd. That’s what really, really good music will do to you, right? Mr. Rowan even led us all singing along with him. And why not? Such an incredible ensemble sound! So many legendary musicians on one stage! Damn was I loving this! “Pulling the Devil by the Tail” was the next selection in store for us that day, another Rowan lead. Dobro and fiddle soaring, guitar and bass keeping precious time, banjo and mandolin filling in each precious gap. Domination. Truly wonderful music. Dave Carroll and Dave Simonett from Trampled by Turtles as Jason Carter departed the stage for a single number with Peter Rowan and the All-Stars. Sadly, I couldn’t discern the name of this one after the fact. However, having Dave and Dave made it an instant crowd pleaser. The two guest gents took the lead on the vocals singing a very nice and lamenting duet. The Daves then took their bows and their leave once finished to a hail of cheering from the crowd. Afterwards the Wood Brothers came out for what was my favorite part of the set: “Ophelia”. This one was rocking good and truly awesome. Great fun from start to finish. Really great combination of talent for this one assembled in one place. The Wood Brothers definitely kicked things up a notch with their brand of musicianship. Oliver and Chris Wood sounded really superb on lead vocals and Jano Rix harmonized like a demon. Chris even played Jenny’s bass at one point leaving Larry a bit flummoxed. Not to mention the monster dobro solo from Jay Starling. That man is a beast on his instrument. Just so damn good!! Their final song of the set I didn’t catch the name of as well, but Mimi Naja (Fruition) joined in to lend her mando to the mix. Incredible mandolin from Drew and Mimi as you could imagine. Nothing like watching those two play together. Drew took the vocals for this one and crooned in his iconic style. A fitting end to a very fine set from some amazing musicians. Many thanks to all the All-Stars and to Larry and to their guests and friends for concocting such a special time for all of us. Cheers to one and all!!
Headlining the main stage on Friday were none other than Colorado’s very own Leftover Salmon. And, it should be stated here well in advance, I am a huge Salmon fan. I mean big time. So, when I say that their set was pretty stupendous all round, I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about. A least a tad. And in such good ways, my friends. Such good! All bundled up now that the sun had set, we were ready for some of that very special kind of music that is Leftover Salmon. And they came ready to deliver, let me tell you. Their first selection of the night, John Hartford’s “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie”, is one of my absolute favorite songs, especially the way that Salmon plays it. So much exciting and rocket-like energy bursting from every note, every verse. A positively premium time to be had by all. This song is always a supremely intense missile of happy and joy and the perfect way to get a show going…damn! Adored the sound of Jay Starling with them all night long, too. Let’s hope this is something permanent for the future? Salmon + dobro? Forget about it!! What a Leftover Salmon roster addition that would be, eh? Massive explosive ending to this one, too! Boom!! What a ride! Later in the set they continued with T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” with Vince on lead vocals. And they rocked it out, too. Really dirty with Drew on electric mando and just nasty rockin’ fun any way you slice it. Always love it when they get down and dirty like that — rock’n’roll!! Festivaaaaaaaaaal!! Alwyn Robinson was really banging those drums, too. Just tearing it up to give us all that driving beat. Helluva cover for them! Next up was Andy on some amazing banjo and with lead vocals for “Colorado Mountains Evermore”. Caught them playing this one down at Strings & Sol this past year and they did just the same awesome justice to it at WonderGrass. This one really shines a light on Andy Thorn and his incredible banjo stylings. And it’s another killer song about Colorado. So, win/win, right? Right. This was followed by Drew on lead vocals for “River’s Rising” — a clear crowd favorite, they played this one at a quick clip, perfect for dancing. The ending of this one was a freight rain jamming through the night — so much energy and force and enjoyment. Another favorite of mine, “Sing Up to the Moon” was next…just love hearing Papa Vince sing out to us. His unique musical aura is so special and palpable. And what a moon it was! Almost full that night shining over our heads. Perfection. Later still in the set Peter Rowan and Larry Keel came out to have a bit of a good time with Salmon with some “Free Mexican Air Force” care of Mr. Rowan on vocals. Really special combo on stage…really special. Nothing like watching a few generations of amazing musicians on stage all at once. Something truly powerful and special about that kind of situation. Rowan and Keel stayed out for the next song, “Soul Shakedown Party”, which was a groovy adventure through music and space and mellow vibes thanks to the musicians assembled in front of us. As you could expect, each one of them took a chance to strut their stuff on their instrument. Really fine musicianship all around. Bravi to everyone! They took this directly into “Hot Corn Cold Corn” clearly enjoying straying into silly territory together. And then they wrapped it up. Just like that. Plain as day. A very quick “I Know You Rider” served as a very satisfactory and enjoyable encore with Vince leading. Who doesn’t love a bit more Dead in their life, right? And when Salmon and Peter Rowan and Larry Keel play it? Holy crap! Face melting!! And I am sure that mine was completely melted after such a wonderful day of music!!
So many thanks to all the musicians and staff that made Friday such a success on all fronts! I know for a fact how much fun everyone had logged in by that point and I was beyond excited that we had not one, but two days left of the exact same thing. Talk about your positive anxiety! So many good times already and with so many more to come, it was off to late night at Agave’s for some more of the Travelin’ McCourys…what fun that promised to be! How couldn’t it?
Saturday and Sunday still inbound, friends!!